Nation Briefs

Bacon may disappear in California as pig rules take effect

DES MOINES, Iowa — Thanks to a reworked menu and long hours, Jeannie Kim managed to keep her San Francisco restaurant alive during the coronavirus pandemic.

That makes it all the more frustrating that she fears her breakfast-focused diner could be ruined within months by new rules that could make one of her top menu items — bacon — hard to get in California.

“Our number one seller is bacon, eggs and hash browns,” said Kim, who for 15 years has run SAMS American Eatery on the city’s busy Market Street. “It could be devastating for us.”

At the beginning of next year, California will begin enforcing an animal welfare proposition approved overwhelmingly by voters in 2018 that requires more space for breeding pigs, egg-laying chickens and veal calves. National veal and egg producers are optimistic they can meet the new standards, but only 4% of hog operations now comply with the new rules. Unless the courts intervene or the state temporarily allows non-compliant meat to be sold in the state, California will lose almost all of its pork supply, much of which comes from Iowa, and pork producers will face higher costs to regain a key market.

Animal welfare organizations for years have been pushing for more humane treatment of farm animals but the California rules could be a rare case of consumers clearly paying a price for their beliefs.

With little time left to build new facilities, inseminate sows and process the offspring by January, it’s hard to see how the pork industry can adequately supply California, which consumes roughly 15% of all pork produced in the country.

“We are very concerned about the potential supply impacts and therefore cost increases,” said Matt Sutton, the public policy director for the California Restaurant Association.

California’s restaurants and groceries use about 255 million pounds of pork a month, but its farms produce only 45 million pounds, according to Rabobank, a global food and agriculture financial services company.

The National Pork Producers Council has asked the U.S. Department of Agriculture for federal aid to help pay for retrofitting hog facilities around the nation to fill the gap. Hog farmers said they haven’t complied because of the cost and because California hasn’t yet issued formal regulations on how the new standards will be administered and enforced.

Barry Goodwin, an economist at North Carolina State University, estimated the extra costs at 15% more per animal for a farm with 1,000 breeding pigs.

If half the pork supply was suddenly lost in California, bacon prices would jump 60%, meaning a $6 package would rise to about $9.60, according to a study by the Hatamiya Group, a consulting firm hired by opponents of the state proposition.

At one typical hog farm in Iowa, sows are kept in open-air crates measuring 14-square-feet when they join a herd and then for a week as part of the insemination process before moving to larger, roughly 20-square foot group pens with other hogs. Both are less than the 24 square feet required by the California law to give breeding pigs enough room to turn around and to extend their limbs. Other operations keep sows in the crates nearly all of the time so also wouldn’t be in compliance.

The California Department of Food and Agriculture said that although the detailed regulations aren’t finished, the key rules about space have been known for years.

“It is important to note that the law itself cannot be changed by regulations and the law has been in place since the Farm Animal Confinement Proposition (Prop 12) passed by a wide margin in 2018,” the agency said in response to questions from the AP.

The pork industry has filed lawsuits but so far courts have supported the California law. The National Pork Producers Council and a coalition of California restaurants and business groups have asked Gov. Gavin Newsom to delay the new requirements. The council also is holding out hope that meat already in the supply chain could be sold, potentially delaying shortages.

Josh Balk, who leads farm animal protection efforts at the Humane Society of the United States, said the pork industry should accept the overwhelming view of Californians who want animals treated more humanely.

“Why are pork producers constantly trying to overturn laws relating to cruelty to animals?” Balk asked. “It says something about the pork industry when it seems its business operandi is to lose at the ballot when they try to defend the practices and then when animal cruelty laws are passed, to try to overturn them.”

In Iowa, which raises about one-third of the nation’s hogs, farmer Dwight Mogler estimates the changes would cost him $3 million and allow room for 250 pigs in a space that now holds 300.

To afford the expense, Mogler said, he’d need to earn an extra $20 per pig and so far, processors are offering far less.

“The question to us is, if we do these changes, what is the next change going to be in the rules two years, three years, five years ahead?” Mogler asked.

The California rules also create a challenge for slaughterhouses, which now may send different cuts of a single hog to locations around the nation and to other countries. Processors will need to design new systems to track California-compliant hogs and separate those premium cuts from standard pork that can serve the rest of the country.

At least initially, analysts predict that even as California pork prices soar, customers elsewhere in the country will see little difference. Eventually, California’s new rules could become a national standard because processors can’t afford to ignore the market in such a large state.

Kim, the San Francisco restaurant owner, said she survived the pandemic by paring back her menu, driving hundreds of miles herself through the Bay Area to deliver food and reducing staff.

Kim, who is Korean-American, said she’s especially worried for small restaurants whose customers can’t afford big price increases and that specialize in Asian and Hispanic dishes that typically include pork.

“You know, I work and live with a lot of Asian and Hispanic populations in the city and their diet consists of pork. Pork is huge,” Kim said. “It’s almost like bread and butter.”

Drive to charge packagers for recycling, but industry fights

PORTLAND, Maine — States across the U.S. are looking to adopt new recycling regimes that require producers of packaging to pay for its inevitable disposal — but industry is digging in to try to halt the movement.

Maine became the first state to adopt such a program in July when Democratic Gov. Janet Mills signed a bill that requires producers of products that involve packaging materials to pay into a new state fund. The fund will be used to reimburse municipalities for recycling and waste management costs.

Oregon has approved a similar bill that is awaiting signature from Democratic Gov. Kate Brown, and at least six other state legislatures have similar bills pending, said Yinka Bode-George, environmental health manager for the National Caucus of Environmental Legislators. Lawmakers in at least four other states have also expressed interest in such bills, she said.

The states with active bills — most of them Democratic-leaning — include large, influential economies like New York and California. Environmentalists in those states and others believe shifting packaging disposal costs away from taxpayers and toward producers is long overdue.

More laws like Maine’s would incentivize industry to stop creating excessive packaging in the first place, Bode-George said. “This culture of throwing things away after one use is part of the problem,” she added. “It’s important for the producers of these materials to really take ownership of them.”

Maine’s bill is designed to cut down on plastic, cardboard, paper and other packaging waste by requiring what the state called “producer payments.” The companies can lower the payments by implementing their own, independent recycling programs or simply reducing packaging. The fees will go to a private organization that will reimburse municipalities for recycling and waste management costs and invest in education geared at reducing packaging and improving recycling.

Oregon’s proposed law is slightly different in that it would require producers and manufacturers of packaging to create a nonprofit group tasked with developing a recycling plan for packaging materials.

Advocates of these strategies sometimes call them “extended producer responsibility.” They are widely used in Europe as well as in some Canadian provinces. The National Waste & Recycling Association, a Virginia-based trade group, has said it can support such programs when they focus on “incentives to create new markets for recycling materials,” because buyers are needed for all these recyclables.

“The most important thing is that there’s a market for it,” said Brandon Wright, a spokesperson for the group.

But the moves have ignited heavy pushback from several sectors of American industry where fears are widespread that the new laws will drive up the cost of doing business in some states. New recycling obligations could cause companies to pull out of those states or pass on costs to consumers, industry members say.

The American Institute for Packaging and the Environment, or AMERIPEN, which represents the packaging industry, had asked Mills to veto Maine’s bill and plans to play an active role in an upcoming rulemaking process about it, said Dan Felton, the group’s executive director.

AMERIPEN hoped to work with Maine on a different new recycling scheme, but the approved law leaves “producers and the people of Maine on the outside of the process and forced to foot the bill for a system where the Maine Department of Environmental Protection is the sole decision-maker,” Felton said.

The proposed recycling laws have also generated pushback from industries that don’t work directly in packaging, but rely on it. Robert Luria, government relations manager for Scotts Miracle-Gro Company, told a state committee that Maine’s law “has the potential to increase inefficiencies in Maine’s recycling system.”

Recycling, particularly of plastics, has been further complicated by China’s decision to stop accepting plastic waste from other countries.

Advocates say the new recycling bills could help with that waste disposal problem by decreasing reliance on single-use plastic products. Maine’s bill sent “a strong signal that it’s time for big corporations and brands to do their part to curb plastic pollution and reduce wasteful packaging,” said Sarah Nichols of the Natural Resources Council of Maine.

In Maine, industry representatives who opposed the bill know the changes are coming and are working with the state to craft rules they can live with.

Industry is also preparing for other states to follow Maine’s lead, said Christine Cummings, executive director of the Maine Grocers & Food Producers Association.

“I think this is just the very start of what this program will evolve into both in Maine and around the country,” Cummings said.

Bishop: Albany diocese covered up priest abuse for decades

ALBANY, N.Y. — The longtime former head of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany says the diocese covered up sexual abuse by priests for decades and protected clergy by sending them to private treatment instead of calling police.

Bishop Howard Hubbard, who ran the diocese in New York’s Capital District from 1977 to 2014 and has himself been accused of sexual abuse, made the admission in a statement issued through his lawyer to the Albany Times-Union in response to questions from the newspaper.

The Times Union reported Hubbard’s statement on Saturday.

“When an allegation of sexual misconduct against a priest was received in the 1970s and 1980s, the common practice in the Albany diocese and elsewhere was to remove the priest from ministry temporarily and send him for counseling and treatment,” Hubbard said.

“Only when a licensed psychologist or psychiatrist determined the priest was capable of returning to ministry without reoffending did we consider placing the priest back in ministry,” he added. “The professional advice we received was well-intended but flawed, and I deeply regret that we followed it.”

About 300 lawsuits have been filed against the Albany diocese under a state law that allows people until Aug. 14 to sue over sexual abuse they say they endured as children, sometimes decades ago.

In the past, the 82-year-old Hubbard has denied allegations that he sexually abused minors. In an August 2019 statement, he said: “I have never sexually abused anyone in my life. I have trust in the canonical and civil legal processes and believe my name will be cleared in due course.”

Responding to allegations in lawsuits that he ignored, disregarded or covered up abuse by others, Hubbard told the Times Union in his statement that he was a leader on church efforts to prevent abuse, including support for background checks and compensation for victims.

Hubbard’s statement was not sanctioned by the diocese, the newspaper reported.

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